Transitioning to College

Common Reactions to Transitioning to College

Transitioning to or returning to college can be a very exciting time, but it can also be a time of stress and emotional overwhelm. It’s important to normalize that students often feel a broad range of emotions as they return to school. For many students, the past couple of years has involved remote and hybrid learning and as students return to in-person educational frameworks this can be associated with lots of positive emotions but also anxiety and distress.

Transition back to school during these particular times has been made more complex by our recent experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic, our country’s reckoning with its legacy of systemic racism and colonialism, and other issues such as gun violence and climate change. These issues, and others, increase feelings of uncertainty and make transitions of all sorts more challenging and complex.

Students transitioning back to school may experience a continuum of symptoms such as stress, anxiety, apprehensiveness, worry to more severe catastrophic thinking and hopelessness. Depending upon the severity of these issues, students might experience an impact on their interpersonal relationships, academic functioning and campus/community engagement.

How Can You Cope?

Students, and those who care for and support students, should start by recognizing and prioritizing the importance of their social and emotional health. Start by normalizing the broad range of emotions that can be present as students transition back to school and recognize that it often takes time to adjust and to build resilience.

Prioritizing relationships is one way to combat the back to school blues. Spend time with friends, connect to clubs and organizations that help you to feel a sense of belonging, call friends and family members from back home who are a source of support.

Reflection and goal-setting are other strategies that can help during periods of transition. Taking time to pause, calm your thoughts and emotions, and then ask yourself what you hope for during the year will help you approach the year with some goals and a sense of direction. Reflection and goal-setting can be applied to your academic goals but also your self-care goals. Asking yourself what you will need to feel happy and healthy throughout the school year is an important act of self-care. This might involve putting together a list of coping activities that work for you.

As you develop a deeper awareness of your thoughts and emotions, it’s important to pay attention to those automatic negative thoughts that can be “traps” for negative and catastrophic thinking. When we are unaware of these sorts of thoughts, we can often fall into “black and white thinking” and often expect the worst. Using a strategy called “cognitive restructuring” it is possible to identify these sorts of automatic thoughts, consider the facts and evidence for and against these thoughts, and then finally replace these thoughts with more rational, realistic thoughts.

When Should I Seek Help?

If attempts to manage one’s “back to school blues” have not been successful and this is impacting academic and social functioning, it may be helpful to reach out to others for support. This might involve reaching out to the myriad of student support services available at your university or reaching out to a community therapist such as those available at LifeSpan Counseling & Psychological Services, LLP.

If you think you may need some support or would like more information, please contact: (708)386-5080

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